Reality dictates that only the fittest spinners of desire will survive in the realm of Art
There's been a flare-up of of the old I'm-an-artist vs Selling-out-to-the-Man debate in the classical world in the last few weeks, ignited by highly respected violinist Gidon Kremer.
Many people reading these letters have voiced support for the position of the artists. The veneration of Art has been the norm since the rise of the artist as an independent entity in the post-Goethe world.
While I appreciate and can even sympathise with this position, I think it's wishful thinking. I'll try to explain what I mean with a minimum of words.
In a world where everything is a commodity -- from the morning coffee to the over-the-counter sleep aid -- music, poetry, sculpture are also commodities. Someone needs to want to buy it. Do do that, the artist needs to create desire.
That desire can be personal as well as collective, such as when a city or state decides to nurture its artists so it can boast of a rich cultural life. It is a form of vanity.
Desire is best fed by stroking our vanity. It works for Rolex, GoodLife Fitness and organic white asparagus as well as for the Verbier Festival, where we can rub programme notes with the finest and brightest on a sun-dappled Alpine slope.
Any child contemplating a career in the arts, even if they are the most talented creature ever to walk the face of the Earth, should, I believe, be informed, early and often, that they will need to create and maintain desire in order to survive as an artist.
Some of it is by effective schmoozing. Some of it is by clever programming. The bulk of it, of course, is through strict self-discipline and a total devotion to the project at hand, so that they are only ever offering their very best for public consumption.
Each festival, competing with hundreds of other festivals and thousands of leisure-activity options, needs to spin their own webs of desire to thrive.
It all sounds a bit crass and crude, I know, but, if we look back over the patron-artist dynamic over the centuries, has it ever really been any different?
I guess what I'm trying to say is that no artist should ever be allowed to take his or her audience for granted. Conversely, especially in the age of fragmented audiences and easy file sharing, we should never take our artists for granted.
Having stated my position, and acknowledging that the Art vs. Commerce debate is here to stay, here is the argument from the other side:
Last month, before the start of the Verbier Festival (which is currently streaming many of its concerts on www.medici.tv for free), Kremer withdrew. The Festival said it was because of illness. British music critic Norman Lebrecht revealed that it was because Kremer was sick and tired of the celebrity spin cycle associated with the business -- and high-profile festivals in particular.
The two are actually writing about slightly different aspects of the same thing.
Luisi's main point:
We see many young, gifted musicians who reach the most important music places in the world, pushed by managers and sought after by presenters who must constantly offer “fresh meat” to the audience: the next Netrebko, the next Pavarotti, the next Bernstein, the next Rubinstein, the next Oistrakh. They are “the nextes” and they don’t have time to be themselves, to develop to be themselves – many of them will disappear soon (we already have seen how many have disappeared after a couple of CDs, after concerts in Salzburg, Verbier, after productions in Milano, New York or London) although they might have talent and skills for a serious career.
This is the reason I appreciate this wonderful Gidon Kremer letter, because it is fresh, ironical, true and it comes from a real artist which constantly worked on himself trying to improve himself, refusing to be pushed by whomever.
Kremer's main point:
Many festivals these days unfortunately allow mixing self-enchantment with entertainment – (be it crossover or “events”) and they succeed to remain a magnet for all those, who want to be seen or hailed.
Yes I am a bit ironic and with a bitter feeling in saying these words;
REAL artists like those that we still remember, haven’t vanished completely. But the “greenery” of Verbier rather contributes to forgetting them and hails mystifications and substitutes of those, who truly served ART. Opposing such a tendency, I simply want to find peace with myself. Lately being warn out by so many dissatisfying partnerships, I simply need a rest. I do hope this will be the best remedy for the hype that surrounds many of us.
Kremer and Luisi have many, many allies. But would Kremer be able to write any of these things if here were a 21-year-old conservatory graduate looking for his first professional gig?
I'll leave the last word for this side of the argument to a seemingly unlikely sympathizer of Kremer's, music producer Kwame: